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Using the same basic technology as "Sky
Captain And The World Of Tomorrow," actors performing on bare sets
against green screens with backgrounds and props CGIed in later, Robert
Rodriguez and Frank Miller's "Sin City" succeeds where the former film
failed, possibly because Miller's graphic novels were essentially used
as storyboards for the film, which was further heightened by Rodriguez'
strong cinematic sensibilities (though he has his excesses and lapses,
and in my opinion, Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh are the only
contemporary directors who have any kind of understanding of film as a
unique narrative medium in its own right and not a bastardized offshoot
of literature or drama.)
"Sin City" really bridges the gap between the comic strip/book and film,
much more successfully than Warren Beatty, Harold Michelson, and
Vittorio Storaro did with "Dick Tracy" (1990). It's approach is also a
potential answer to the problem I've cited as to why recent
traditionally animated films like "Treasure Planet" and DreamWorks'
"Sinbad" failed; that they were really aimed at 10-14 year olds who
couldn't get past seeing these films as cartoons like younger kids could
and would probably have responded better if they were live-action or a
live-action/animated or CGI hybrid. And by setting the film in a totally
stylized world, it's a lot easier to accept this hybrid look than more
traditional live-action comic strip adaptations whose mixture of actual
locations and CGI are often at odds with each other in maintaining a
unified fantasy feel.
"Sin City" has one of the better HD-to-film transfers I've seen to date
with only a couple of shots showing video artifacts. There are strong
contrasts in both the live-action lighting and the CGI material. The
film has been rendered mostly in black-and-white with occasional color
agents. In some of the goriest scenes, blood is rendered white. And a
warning, this is probably the most graphically violent film released in
the United States in a decade or so.
Where the film is flawed is in its
story. In the traditional of "Pulp Fiction," it intertwines four vaguely
related tales in a sometimes confusing manner. And not helping things is
the overuse of stylized dialog and narration in the vein of pulp noirish
novels and stories of the Forties and Fifties. While this might work
fine on the page, it comes off as excessive and detrimental to the pace
of the film; a little of it would have worked better in sustaining the
idea and its mood.
Knowing how Rodriguez works, it probably didn't cost very much and may
already be in profit, so it's likely to inspire other, no doubt
less-talented, filmmakers to use this approach, and probably not with
the singular vision Rodriguez and Miller brought to this film.
(Personally, I'd still prefer to film on sets, in Panavision anamorphic
or 65mm of course.) This is likely to lead not only to more "Sky
Captains" but badly conceived adaptations of other graphic novels and
even worse ones supposedly created specifically for the screen. And
because few directors and even fewer writers, producers, and executives
have any background in visual storytelling, the visual dynamics are
likely to be overwhelmed by excessive talk, especially in the very
likely event of Robin Williams or Jim Carrey being cast in one of these
"Sin City" is worth seeing for the accomplishment and what it portends
for the future.
Mitchell is a film editor, film director, and film historian. He lives in
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